I was hunting for a quote about social media for a recent talk I was giving and stumbled upon an article that began with these lines:
"Social media is already massive. And growing at the speed of avalanche."
The first word that popped to my mind was "yes!". But, it wasn't the growth of social media that caused my response, but the impact of social media on my life and just about every other person I know.
How about you? Do you feel the "avalanche" of social media coming at you from sites like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and Pinterest has been a good influence on your life or a not-so-good one?
At first, the social media experience was exciting and fun. Like meeting a new romantic partner, we were all caught up in it's charm and the allure of what it had to offer. It was new, slick and unknown.
But then, as the novelty started to wane, as in any relationship, many of us began to ask questions such as "is this all there is?", "will I begin to get that feeling again?", "can I endure this for another however many years?"
It's interesting to note how the questions we ask about social media parallel those of our more meaningful relationships. Unlike those more meaningful, offline relationships, however, the part of social media that we have yet to full comprehend is this: IT IS NOT REAL. I apologize for the caps. I recognize that is the equivalent of yelling online, but it's truly the only way to get this important point across.
Unlike offline connections, online connections are a fascade -- a mask. We know a screen name and avatar, but not the true person. And, when we know the true person, often what we see online isn't how we know that person in other settings. We all know this is true because our own online selves are only an image of what we are offline and a manipulated one at that. We all show people what we want them to see.
Unlike offline relationships were we have conversations and get something meaningful out of the experience, the online world doesn't give us anything concrete we can hold onto. That's why so many people feel so unsure when they go online and why so much time is being spent on research looking into the concept of how disconnected people are today as they become more connected online.
Teens and adults are seeking validation from these online connections because their offline connections are tenuous, given how our lives are structured -- hectic, on the go and grounded in virtual connections. My 17-year-old daughter told me recently that many of her friends become incredibly unsettled if their peers don't "like" their new profiles pages and pictures. It's considered a form of rejection and can send them into a social panic. That validation is incredibly important to them (as it is to many adults!)
So, as parents, how can we help our teenagers and younger kids learn to create a more balanced perspective than many of us seem to have? We help them learn to unplug more while young so that as they get older and more independent they have more balanced perspective of how to live in an all digital world without being completely consumed by it -- and we do so by teaching through example.
I know it won't be easy, but if we find more ways to unplug and routinely seek out true connections, our kids will follow our lead.
So actively put down cell phones at meal time. Call people more instead of texting them. Find times to have real coffee with friends instead of a virtual cup while your both sitting at your home offices on your computers. And make each weekend with your family be 100% unplugged family time.
There will always be a new technological temptation, but true living will always be unplugged. Teach your kids that today and they will someday thank you for that... perhaps even in person, and not by text!
Follow Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drgwenn